Healthcare professionals across the Niagara region are mobilizing to respond to an increase in COVID-19 related cases in the coming weeks due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Our hospital teams are taking a number of immediate steps to protect capacity for life-saving critical care and other services in response to potentially extreme pressures on the healthcare system. All hospitals have been asked by the province to prepare to pause scheduled surgeries and other scheduled activity after the holiday season, and that planning is underway in the event it is needed.
Our Emergency Operations Committee meets regularly and adjusts our operations, as needed, in a safe and controlled manner to manage surges in patient activity and maintain a safe environment for all. Our leaders also work closely with hospitals in the Hamilton/Niagara/Haldimand/Brant/Burlington region and with local and provincial partners to support each other.Among the changes that have taken place or are planned at Niagara Health:
- We are opening a public vaccination clinic in early January at a scale by which we can still maintain hospital services, recognizing that hospital staff must be focused on emergent, urgent and inpatient care first;
- We are expanding hours at our Niagara Falls and St. Catharines Assessment Centres over the holiday season in response to an increase in demand for testing;
- Visitors and Essential Care Partners must be fully vaccinated (second dose administered 14 days prior to visiting);
- Only one visitor or Essential Care Partner at a time with a patient to enable physical distancing in patient rooms.
There is an increase in active cases and hospitalizations in the Niagara region. Today, we are caring for 22 patients with COVID-19, including six in the Intensive Care Unit at our St. Catharines Site. At this time, we have capacity in our ICUs and have a plan to take an incremental approach to increase critical care capacity as needed. Hospital admissions follow two to three weeks behind COVID-19 activity we see in the community, and we urge everyone to remain vigilant with all public health measures and to get a third dose of vaccine if possible to minimize spread of the virus and illness requiring hospitalization.
The holiday season is a time when hospitals typically see an increase in activity in Emergency Departments due to seasonal illnesses. Given the heightened concerns with the transmissibility of the Omicron variant and the pressures on our Emergency Departments, we ask that you consider your healthcare options before visiting the hospital for non-emergency concerns. If you require non-emergency care over the holidays, please contact your primary care provider as your first point of contact.
We can appreciate how challenging and disappointing a fifth wave is for everyone, especially during the holiday season. This is not where we expected to be at this point in the pandemic, however these actions are needed to protect our patients and families, and our staff and physicians. Although disappointing, we have done this work before, and we will do it again, with your assistance, to get this pandemic behind us.